Today, I’m welcoming a very special guest to the site for an interview: Bryn C J Hammond. Bryn has spent many years in the entertainment industry, and in a number of different roles. This includes time spent modelling, directing the movie The Summer of the Massacre, and running GoreZone magazine. But his credentials don’t stop there. He not only runs a multi-subject website, but quotes from hsir eviews have appeared on moe than 100 DVD covers, including those for films starring such people as Danny Dyer and Charisma Carpenter. On top of this, he is also a best selling author, a journalist, and a TV personality. Today, we’re going to be looking at his current work, and delving a little into his past.
You are a best-selling author with your true crime series, A Case For Murder. These books each takes a look at a different celebrity and examines the evidence surrounding the nature of their deaths. The response to these has thus far been very positive, which I can imagine must be really gratifying given the amount of work involved with investigative journalism. What made you decide to start on this series?
The birth of the series began a few years after the breakdown of a ten-year relationship. The person I thought I knew better than anyone else in the world turned out to be someone completely different; he was shallow, vicious with sociopathic tendencies and he built a superficial bubble around us to control me. After the break-up I had no mechanisms to deal with the real world; I didn’t even know how to balance a cheque, but gradually bits of the jigsaw began to come together, and I discovered he had transferred all our company funds to an offshore bank account a few weeks before he left, with the help of our joint accountant, stitching me up royally. I was naive and blind to the person he really was – he was a real Patrick Batman.
After a few glasses of wine and two tubs of frozen yogurt it got me thinking about the extraordinary lengths people go to secure wealth and a comfortable future. Money equals social status, money causes interest and money can lead to murder. Gradually I began to look into celebrities that died under unusual circumstances. A few of the cases really spoke out to me and I simply couldn’t get them out of my head, even long after my head had hit the pillow.
So, with a concept in place I developed the core of the series and it went from there, but unlike a lot of journalistic sleuths, prior to beginning my investigative journalism I spent almost a year studying and reading Association of Chief Police Officers manuals on how to investigate crimes by the National Centre for Policing Excellence (NCPE). I’m very much a sponge in that respect and I never do anything by half. I wanted to approach each case professionally and with knowledge of how officials would approach such a case.
The books available currently cover Aaliyah, Anna Nicole Smith, and Brittany Murphy. Did you have a favourite of these?
Aaliyah and Anna Nicole Smith Files are currently pre-order only at present. I had my Shakespearean moment and pushed both books back as I wanted to provide additional material which was made available to me just prior to the book’s print schedule last year, and this additional information opened up an all-new can of worms. I feel the material will allow the reader, in Anna Nicole Smith’s case, to forget the image, forget the ensemble, forget the rumours, forget the short skirts and big hair and show her as a real human with very real issues and pain.
In the case of Aaliyah Files, it has changed the entire book’s conclusion; it was a real game changer. People forget that Aaliyah was preparing for greener pastures at the time of her death and that she had already shot the second single to her self-titled third album, but at the last minute her uncle, Barry Hankerson, decided to switch the singles conveniently and fly her off to the Bahamas to film Rock the Boat instead. The scenes filmed on the beach in Marsh Harbour only make up 5% of the completed video.
It didn’t make logistic sense, and then there’s the small factor of risking the only profitable artist on your label by placing her and her entourage on a twin-engine Cessna 402B (registration N8097W) with a guy who was not approved to fly the plane and who, just a few weeks before being hired to fly Aaliyah back to US soil, was booked on a felony for the possession of crack cocaine after being pulled over for driving through a stop sign.
Allegedly, prior to Aaliyah’s death, she was in the last stages of talks with Roc-A-Fella Records, owned and co-founded by her boyfriend, Damon Dash, to move over to his label. Had she moved over, her uncle’s record label (Blackground Records) would have lost their prodigy and biggest earner, and without his star the label would have sunk faster than the Titanic. He would additionally have lost complete control over her estate and authoritative over royalties, but before she could sign any papers with Roc-A-Fella Records she died in a tragic plan crash.
This wouldn’t be the first time Hankerson had used violence to get his own way. He bought the salon of his former girlfriend and signed artist, then fired her because she dumped him. He then began posting anonymously on the Internet that she was HIV positive. In between firing her and posting defamatory comments on the worldwide web she started receiving threatening phone calls from a disguised voice, and someone even went as far as tampering with her car brakes before blowing up her vehicle in San Diego, so the maths isn’t really that difficult. But often we are just too close to the situation to see it clearly and it needs a second pair of eyes to help.
Were there any challenges that made the books difficult to work on? I would have thought that not everyone involved in each case would be willing to do further interviews, for example.
Yes, there were. People aren’t generally warming to questions about the deceased as they fear that if they do say anything to a journalist it may be taken out of context or used in a negative way for a headline or pull quote.
Challenges include people who threaten legal action, and you also get those who agree to take part in an interview, but after sending them the questions you slaved over they stop responding and don’t acknowledge you thereon in.
A simple ‘Hey sorry, after reviewing the questions I simply don’t feel comfortable answering them’ would be suffice. Then we have the Clare Staples (A Case for Murder: Brittany Murphy Files) of this world that agree to an interview, but they need time to work on their answers, so you push the print deadline back for them, then at the last hour they back out with a feeble excuse, ‘I’ve said all I have to say on this topic already.’ Well, if that was the case Miss Staples, you could have saved me a lot of time and money and said that when you asked for an extension for answering my questions!
Finally, we have the Julia Davises (A Case for Murder: Brittany Murphy Files) of this world, who has created a fabricated back story for self-gain, and no sooner do you scratch the surface and debunk the tale of terror than she calls your journalistic credentials into question and slanders you on social media. Even with her backlash I gave her an open mic to have the right to reply, only to have her block me on all media platforms.
One thing I’ve learnt is the best way to nip these issues in the bud is to out them in your book so others can approach them with caution. This was a tip I learnt from Piers Morgan. So, it is what it is, it comes with the territory and I don’t lose sleep over them, plus they make for a good read!
What other books are planned in the series?
The series is in an ignominious position with regards to who I can cover, but I’ve a book on Heath Ledger and Elisa Lam in the works for the series, and potentially Marilyn Monroe. I’m only 50/50 on the latter as I don’t feel I can give the reader an unbiased opinion of her life and death due to my admiration for her. I idolise Monroe; she was a pretty smart cookie. She was reading Nietzsche on the set of Something’s Got to Give, her uncompleted final film, yet she had crafted an image of the dumb, wide-eyed blonde so perfectly that it has lasted for generations. Marilyn was also the first female to own her own production company in Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe Productions. She paved the way for women in Hollywood, and every single woman owes something to her for that, whether they agreed with her dazzling caricature image or not. Her love affairs are as famous as her character Lorelei Lee (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and her death is as infamous as the Apollo 11 moon landing, so we shall see.
In recent years, there seems to have been a rise in public interest in true crime documentaries, which everyone from well-regarded criminal psychologists to Super Nanny Jo Frost taking a look at historic crimes. Have you found that this rise in popularity for the genre has led many new fans your way?
I am not aware of Jo Frost, but after a quick Google search I can see she’s gone from Jo Frost: Nanny on Tour to Jo Frost On Britain’s Killer Kids – what a game changer! I will have to check out an episode on YouTube later and see what advice she can give to parents who have killer kids. I’m not really sure the naughty step is going to cut it somehow!
In terms of Frost’s audience coming in my direction I already have two built-in audiences – True Crime fans and the selected celebrity’s fan base. Jo’s target reach is very niche; while I’m being interviewed about my book by True Crime Monthly, Heat and Now magazine she’s promoting her show through TV Quick. We are very different beasts and I’ve been around longer. Additionally, True Crime shows are nothing new and have always been rating winners. For decades the USA has had stations that purely concentrate on the dark side of human nature and it’s only been over the past few years that UK producers have sat up and taken notice as it’s cheap TV. My book sales to date have been predominantly overseas, but any new reader is a welcome reader.
How are the docu-drama adaptions of the Anna Nicole Smith and Brittany Murphy books coming along? Can you tell us when to expect them to hit TV screens?
The docu-drama ground to a halt during the final months of 2017 due to family illness. We were all set to fly to Los Angeles and I sadly had to halt the production due to my Nan (Mom’s mom) going into hospital. It was very hit and miss for a time, but she returned home in December then we had the festive season and New Year. No sooner had all this ended than my other Nan (Dad’s mom) was taken into hospital with pneumonia and is currently in the critical care unit, so between travelling back to the West Midlands and writing I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to the docu-drama as I’d have liked. However, it will be completed this year by hook or by crook. I feel extremely guilty for neglecting the project as I’m so passionate about it, but family has to come first. My Nan needed me, and I had to be there for her like she was there for me while I was growing up.
My own introduction to you came when I interviewed horror author Nick Stead, and we spoke about him collaborating with you on your upcoming book, The Complete History of The Howling, which is due for release in February. This book is essentially a look at the entire movie franchise and features a plethora of interviews with the cast and crew of the various films, as well as never before seen behind the scenes photos. I know that you’ve stated before that you wouldn’t want to cover a franchise in this way if it had already been done to death. Was that part of the reason that you picked The Howling for this particular project, and what inspired you start this project up in the first place?
The book has in fact been pushed back until May so we can have a real special launch for The Howling fans which Dee Wallace, who took part in the book, is in support of. What inspired the book? Well basically I’d taken a long hiatus from the horror genre and from writing in general, and during the research and writing of the A Case for Murder series I really wanted to do something less intense, something that wasn’t so emotionally draining, on the side. Reading autopsies, police reports and digesting court documents can cause mental fatigue, so I decided to do a franchise book that had the potential to be a brimming bowl of hot-buttered popcorn fresh from the popper, something that would be deeply gratifying for the readers and myself during my writing process with something to chuckle over, marvel at and cheer on every new chapter, and the rest is history. It happened very organically. It’s been a real labour of love and due to no-one tackling the series to date I am happy with the knowledge I am breaking new ground by bringing the series together all under one roof with no-one to compete with, which is
extremely important to me as I hate comparisons that are drawn out in cyberspace. Nick Stead’s input is really original and hasn’t been done before in other franchise books so well, so I’m hoping the fans’ reception of it will be rewarding. I’m looking forward to promoting the book with him in May. He’s such a wonderful and talented guy.
Did you consider any other movie franchises before settling on The Howling?
Yes, I did. I had considered various others but they didn’t click with me after revisiting them and investigating their history and their following. I couldn’t really justify my time for a series such as Return of the Living Dead (a personal favourite) when it doesn’t really have a huge audience gravitation; the sales just wouldn’t be there. I also looked into Friday the 13th, but how can anyone improve on the Crystal Lake Memories by Peter M. Bracke? The book is utterly stunning in its presentation, substance and obvious adoration for the material, so I didn’t really want to go up against Bracke. Hellraiser was another franchise I considered, but again Paul Kane’s book The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy nailed it. While not as visually pleasing to the eye as the aforementioned it does give an intelligent insight into the themes and concepts of the series while tossing in interesting making of stories, which pretty much rounds up everything that was needed to be said about the long-running series. I do have a few ‘Complete History of …’ that I have in mind for the future but I
want to see how this book does first so I can learn from my mistakes and improve on them through feedback. Anything new is a learning curve, so I’m not going to run before I can walk.
When it comes to The Howling, most fans of the genre tend to cite the original film as a shining example of how to pull off a great werewolf movie. The rest of the franchise seems to have a bit more of a mixed reputation though. Looking at the various sequels, are there any that you feel are actually hidden gems? Why?
I adore the first movie starring the exquisitely talented Dee Wallace, it’s beautifully shot, superbly performed and the craftsmanship that went into the film’s every detail is astonishing; it’s rare to see a film that oozes so much passion and charisma. Today it’s all about the big money shots and loud bangs as The Good Place recounted in the latest episode when referring to the Transformer movies while discussing the latest torture Cologne for men: “How do you smell loud and confusing?”
In regards to The Howling series having any hidden gems, each film in the long running franchise are all very much their own gem and can all be considered as stand-alone movies due to how different they all are in tone. Philippe Mora (Howling II & III), who has written the The Complete History of The Howling’s foreword, gave viewers werewolf orgies, big hair, punks in leathers and the Howling II’s unforgettable movie anthem by Steve Parsons and Babel. Director John Hough of Howling IV: The Original Nightmare brought us one of the more iconic werewolves of the series and Romy Windsor as the final girl. Howling V: The Rebirth gave viewers a goofy spin on the Ten Little Indians scenario set in a snow-capped castle in Budapest, giving the finished film a real atmospheric presence on screen. Howling VI: The Freaks was intelligently written and pitted a werewolf against a vampire in a carnival freak show, and then we have the Dawson Creek entry in the series, The Howling: Reborn by Joe Nimziki, the eighth film in the franchise. Sure it has clunky dialogue and no real sense of pace, but the werewolf effects are above average and the costumes are mostly practical, so they get a huge kudos for using practical effects rather than going for the easy option of CGI werewolves. So there’s a gem for everyone, depending on what you want from your werewolf movie.
Did The Complete History of The Howling provide a change of pace from the A Case For Murder books, or were you able to approach both projects in much the same way?
I approached both projects in the same manner, but the pace was much more relaxed with The Complete History of The Howling and much more heterogeneous. The Complete History of The Howling not only looks at the franchise but also digs deep into the origins of lycanthrope, exploring myths surrounding the creatures in question and a few real life true crimes (Albert Fish the Werewolf of Wysteria). I mixed it up a little and tried not to alienate my current readership (A Case for Murder) and of course I looked at the franchise’s source material by the wonderfully talented Gary Brandner, who sadly passed away from oesophageal cancer in 2013. My approach to The Complete History of The Howling was to create a book for die-hard-fans of the series but to slightly diversify so that people who are familiar with my A Case for Murder series aren’t alienated and people that are not practically interested in The Howling series have the exploration of lycanthrope to fall back on. It’s a real werewolf love affair.
Much like A Case for Murder series I also found people unwilling to discuss their involvement with The Howling franchise, but for the reason of embarrassment. I also came up against one of the film’s stars (I use the term ‘star’ loosely), who demanded a triple-figure sum for an email Q&A. I politely replied asking the thespian to come back with a more realistic figure with less zeros. Let me put it in perspective – this so-called professional has spent all of her screen time in movies that are padded with illogical plot cues, awful dialogue and heavy montages cut to scores that are more suitable for a John C. Holmes movie. Nobody has paid attention to this actress since Robert Rodriguez and
Quentin Tarantino made faux trailers a thing. But it is what it is! I stay in bed every morning for an extra five minutes to ponder my place in the universe and thank everyone for the opportunities and second chances I’ve been given. Then I wash my face and check my karma. Can she do the same? I truly believe that if you can’t give back ungrudgingly to the audience that made you part of popular culture I thinks it’s about time she hung up your gold bikini.
In a way, The Complete History of The Howling is a return to old stomping grounds for you, as you previously ran GoreZone Magazine. Can you tell us how you got started with the magazine?
I started off working for a local newspaper and saw how it was gradually run into the ground by its editing chief and staff, and I thought I could do that job in my sleep. The headquarters where I was situated made Geordie Shore look tame in comparison, and lunchtimes really did give packing the beak an all new meaning. Within a month of leaving the sinking ship I gave life to GZ Magazine, and by issue five I had been approached by two distribution companies who wanted to distribute us worldwide, and the rest is history. It was a very humble beginning. I had huge admiration for Hugh Hefner and Playboy and I wanted to be the horror equivalent. I feel that by the last issue I had achieved my goal. I even had the chance to work with Hefner’s girlfriend, Bridget Marquardt, who shot a cover with us. We did a Psycho, Prom Night, Jaws and Fatal Attraction internal spread, which was amazing and a lot of fun.
The magazine ran from 2005 to 2011 and maintained a decent fan base throughout its life. Do you feel like you learned any important lessons when it comes to writing and journalism during the life of the magazine?
I don’t feel you really ever stop learning; every day is a learning curve and I’m still learning from yesterday’s mistakes. I guess what I carry with me from GZ Magazine days is that I overworked myself, and I paid the price. I now understand the cost of pushing so hard for perfection – fighting so hard to be the best and filling my work life with people who come with falsehoods. I also understand the real meaning of friendship and I can count the people still around from my GZ magazine days on one hand. In terms of writing and journalism, journalism today is an all-new ball game and I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m now writing for the selfie generation and it’s all about the likes, but I still live by my quote: “You’re only as good as your last issue”, except now its books.
I noted in your interview with Horror Screams Video Vault that you felt that CGI in horror films had improved a lot since 2010, but that you still preferred prosthetics and practical effects. I feel pretty much the same regarding how horror films present their special effects. What would you say is the best example of effective use of SFX, both practical and computer generated?
The best use of CGI is CGI that I haven’t picked up on, but 95% of the time you can spot CGI a mile off, it’s all rather animated. Take Catwoman as a prime example. I prefer yesteryear when films weren’t clogged with computer-generated special effects. I hate to harp on about the glory days of practical work, but practical effects stood as an element of cinema with major intrigue, it had us viewers on the edge of our seats, anticipating the aesthetic horrors in wait. I must stress that not all CGI makes for miserable visuals because it doesn’t. 30 Days of Night uses practical and digital effects superbly and to haunting effect, but the best use of practical and CGI would still have to be Jurassic Park. It was a revolutionary piece of cinema; there are only 14 minutes of actual dinosaur action and only 4 minutes of those were made using CGI as a last resort. If you compare Jurassic Park to Jurassic World you can see my point; the original wins without even having to break out into a sweat.
A poor example of ditching the corn syrup is Blade. The CGI blood looks like it belongs on a Windows 95 screensaver, and don’t get me started on Samuel Bayer’s remake of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror films have succeeded for decades in constructing tension without having to show their hand, so it would be nice to see the tide turn again and leave the CGI to Star Trek: Discovery.
Quotes from you have appeared on more than one hundred DVD covers before now. Can you remember what the first quote of yours to appear in this way was?
I don’t recall my first cover quote as more so than often I’d be told my name was on a DVD cover by a third person long after it had been released. I think that’s almost always the case with journalists that write reviews.
You don’t just write horror and true crime. In fact, your website features an eclectic mix of film, music and TV reviews, as well as a good mix of other features and interviews. What was the reason that you decided to go with this approach rather than sticking with one genre for your musings?
This question comes up a lot, and I’m usually accused of reinventing myself or trying to mainstream my career. Basically, I started writing when I started walking, so I’m just being free with my creative options. I don’t think I have reinvented myself just because I have interviewed directors from other genres or because I’ve reviewed Hurricane Bianca, Pledge This! and Dua Lipa’s latest musical offering. I have a varied taste and I like to express this in my work. Now I’m older and wiser I don’t like to be boxed in. A human’s greatest asset is that we can constantly keep growing and developing new and wonderful life skills. If I put myself in one genre box for my musings then I’d not be able to share other interesting facets of life, cinema and music. I truly believe that if you box yourself in you’ll have a short shelf life and a wasted soul.
Having been around the entertainment industry for many years now (and in a wide range of capacities), did you have any advice you can give to those who are new to writing professionally? Are there any obvious pitfalls that people should try to avoid?
I feel old now! My advice is that when you first put your right foot forward into the entertainment industry in any capacity you must realise that the peeps around you who are already established will treat you like you’re invisible. Press screeners, prepare to be an outcast and side-lined. Don’t expect to be a part of the in-crowd right away, as the journalist circle is very cliquey. But do not ever be discouraged.
These people, deep down, are holding onto their former glory days and are as scared of fresh blood entering their habitat as you are going into their environment. Don’t expect an invite to the wine bar they’re all going to once the film credits roll, because that invite won’t be forthcoming.
Make sure you have your armour ready to go!
When providing content for websites and/or magazines don’t be precious about your material – sure it’s your baby, a labour of love, but be prepared for heavy edits so the content flows with the rest of their output.
It can be disheartening at first that a piece you have worked on for hours has been reformatted and tweaked here and there, but as long as your premise is still alive within the piece just be grateful you have made the grade, pick up your pay cheque and begin your next assignment or idea.
A more potent issue than having a drinking buddy or facing rewrites to your content is writer’s block, which can be a real bitch if you have a deadline to meet and words aren’t freely flowing like you’d hope. If this occurs don’t fret, fretting is far more dangerous than taking yourself out of your environment and getting a bit of fresh air. Just make sure you have a notebook with you.
Get lost in your imagination and escape for a while.
A little escapism is really good to get the creative juices flowing again.
If you don’t have a timescale to work to, put it aside for a few days, or longer, do other things; try not to think about it. Then sit down and read over it as if you’ve never seen it before. Start at the beginning. Print it out so you can scribble on the manuscript as you go; if you see anything you want to change make a note of it in the border and then go back to it later. And often, when you get to the end, you’ll be enthusiastic about it and know what the next few words are.
Also, if you’re writing purely for the pay cheque you’re in the wrong lane. Reach for the stars, be all that you are and make them all fall down. Until that happens, have a backup plan, as you’re not going to be buying that big mansion in upstate New York anytime soon!
Finally, I wanted to thank Bryn for stopping by today. If you want to learn more about the man himself, you can check him out on the following links.
In the mean time, keep your eyes open for a wordlwide competition! I’ll be giving away hard copies of Bryn’s A Case For Murder: Brittany Murphy!